By Frank Portillo
Ten years after their first movie, Marvel Studios released what is perhaps their best film yet with “Black Panther.” Everything about the movie works including the writing, acting and directing.
The story takes place after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” where the titular character was first introduced. With the death of his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his hidden kingdom of Wakanda to follow in his father’s footsteps as leader. When a mysterious warrior Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) allies with Wakanda’s most wanted criminal Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to overthrow the new king, T’Challa is forced to come face to face with the sins of his father’s past and embrace the role of Black Panther.
“Black Panther” is the first major superhero film to feature a primarily African-American cast and offer a refreshing take on the universe that these characters inhabit. After the first mention of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda in “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” fans have waited to see the world of advanced technology.
“Black Panther” does not disappoint when it comes to the design of Wakanda. As T’Challa returns home from a mission on his spaceship, he smiles and says “this never gets old,” as the spaceship flies into what looks like a jungle. The trees are then revealed to be a projection and his technologically advanced nation is shown.
Another piece of the film that doesn’t disappoint is Boseman’s portrayal of King T’Challa. It’s no surprise that the producers of the film never had anyone else in mind for the role. His embodiment of the character felt natural and it wasn’t a stretch for the audience to think of him as a king.
The most surprising and strongest aspect of the film, however, is the development of its villain, Killmonger. Usually Marvel movies’ weakest points are its villains, but the latest entry in the cinematic universe added the most relatable character yet. Instead of using a villain hell-bent on world destruction for whatever generic reason, as these movies tend to do, the film develops a tragic, three-dimensional character whose motivations are completely clear and understandable to the audience.
Having been witness to the many injustices and marginalization that African Americans face around the world, he points out the flaws of not only the fictional world of Wakanda, but our own real world. His character is the most beautifully developed Marvel villain since Loki because of his relatability.
The ideas that were presented in the movie are so unique. After assuming the role of Black Panther, the individual is imbued with the power to visit their ancestors in a visually stunning and emotional scene. The best scene in the entire film shows Killmonger’s interaction with his deceased father, who is played wonderfully by Sterling K. Brown. Having been lost without his father, his true motivations are shown in a heart-wrenching performance by both Jordan and Brown. Unable to verbally express his sadness, Killmonger fights to hold his tears back but is unable to do so.
The women in the film are another of this film’s strongest aspects. The studio has produced such badass female characters that hopefully Marvel does decide to dedicate one of their films to them alone. Included in this group of women is Danai Gurira who plays Okoye, leader of the Wakandan special forces unit known as the Dora Milaje. The secret service-like unit acts as protection of the kingdom and its king and only admits women into its ranks.
Letitia Wright almost steals the show as T’Challa’s little sister and tech expert Shuri. She provides her older brother with plenty of gadgets to play with as the Black Panther. She also teases and jokes with her brother the only way that a sister can, which provides some comedy and levity throughout the film. As she is tasked with performing a medical procedure on Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross character, she has perhaps the best line in the film when she says: “great. Another broken white boy to fix”
Fans of the universe will recognize this broken white boy as Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes, who was taken to Wakanda after the events of “Civil War.”
Lupita Nyong’o also appears in the film as Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest. Nyong’o never delivers a bad performance and this film is no exception. Her character works as an undercover spy of sorts who tries to free the oppressed people outside of Wakanda.
“Black Panther” is available in theaters and is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.